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Americans Who See Immigration as a Critical Threat to the United States at Lowest Level in Two Decades

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura
People wait in line at the US-Mexico border.
Reuters

For the first time since the question was first asked by the Council in 1994, only a minority (40%) of Americans consider a large influx of immigrants and refugees a “critical threat” to the United States

Introduction

The 2012 Chicago Council Survey reveals that Americans have grown less concerned over the last decade about large numbers of immigrants—legal or illegal—coming to live and work in the United States. In addition, a growing number of Americans support keeping legal immigration at its current level or increasing it.

For the first time since the question was first asked by the Council in 1994, only a minority (40%) of Americans consider a large influx of immigrants and refugees a “critical threat” to the United States. Fewer now than ever recorded in Chicago Council Survey history (53%) say that “controlling and reducing illegal immigration” is a very important foreign policy goal for the United States.

The 2012 Chicago Council Survey results show that concern about many threats has lessened, including terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. However, immigration has seen the greatest decline of all threats currently asked about. Since 1994, public perceptions of immigration as a critical threat has declined 32 points, and reducing illegal immigration as a top goal has declined 19 points.

Key Findings

  • Plurality of Americans support maintaining current immigration levels
  • Republicans’ concerns remain steady; Democrats and Independents less threatened
  • Among public, bipartisan support is strong for immigration reform
  • Midwesterners feel more threatened than broader American public

Methodology

This report is based on the results of two surveys commissioned by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, both conducted by GfK Custom Research. The panel for both surveys is recruited using stratified random digit dialing (RDD) telephone sampling. The first, a national survey, was conducted between May 25 and June 8, 2012, among a nationally representative sample of 1,877 adults. The margin of error for this survey is ± 3%. The second, a Midwest survey, was conducted between August 16 and August 27, 2012, among a representative sample of 1,062 adults living in the twelve-state Midwest. The margin of error for this survey is ± 4%.

About the Authors
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years of experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2008.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Director of Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
headshot of Craig Kafura
Craig Kafura is the director of public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a Pacific Forum Young Leader. At the Council, he coordinates work on public opinion and foreign policy and is a regular contributor to the public opinion and foreign policy blog Running Numbers.
headshot of Craig Kafura